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Hands on: Xbox One Gamepad review

Controlling the next generation Xbox One

What is a hands on review?
Xbox One Gamepad
The Xbox One Gamepad


  • Impulse triggers significantly up immersion
  • More responsive, precise sticks and triggers
  • Battery compartment no longer protrudes
  • Improved ergonomic design


  • Still lots to learn about functionality
  • "Start" and "Select" buttons may be missed
  • Not as cosmetically pleasing as 360 gamepad
  • Yet to test with actual games

Following a full day of presentations, interviews, tours, tech demos and teases of the Xbox One's game-changing potential, the powers that be at Microsoft finally let us get our mitts on the new hardware's controller.

While our time with the gamepad doesn't allow us to tear up the blacktop in Forza 5 or command a SEAL Team canine in Call of Duty: Ghosts, it does provide a peek at a few of the 40-plus improvements that have been made over its predecessor.

Before diving into six separate demos tailored to show off the controller's enhanced rumble tech, Microsoft senior product marketing manager, Navin Kumar, states "precision, comfort, and making gaming more realistic than ever" were the driving forces behind designing the new gamepad.

In terms of precision, Kumar points out that the analog sticks respond to inputs with 25 per cent less force, delivering a far more accurate experience. He also claims its d-pad allows for "crisper inputs, "perfect for "sweeping movements in fighting and sports games."

Xbox One Gamepad

Feeling the full effect of 'impulse triggers'

While our hands-on time affords little opportunity to test this improved precision and accuracy, it does allow our thumbs and fingers to feel the full effect of what Kumar refers to as "impulse triggers." Like the 360's controller, the Xbox One gamepad features left and right triggers, used for everything from scoring headshots to flooring gas pedals.

However, the One's controller significantly ups the immersion of these interactive experiences thanks to the addition of motors housed in its triggers: in addition to the pair of rumblers located in the hand-grips - as they are in a 360 controller - the One's peripheral adds one each to both triggers.

Xbox One Gamepad

It tickles... seriously

As demonstrated during our hands-on time, the tech is being used in a number of ways to intensify the immersion factor. With a press of the Y button, we're able to fire up a helicopter's propeller and a sports car's engine. While these interactions would yield near-identical vibrations with a 360 controller, they feel entirely unique through the One's triggers and sticks. By programming four separate motors, two of which now tickle the sensitive finger tips, the peripheral is able to convey astounding nuance and variety in its vibrations.

Xbox Gamepad

On top of differentiating between an engine's powerful roar and a chopper's spinning rotors, the quartet of motors allows us to experience how it feels to pop off a few rounds from a hand-cannon and summon a fireball in the palm of our hand. While the former feels much like it does in any contemporary shooter, the latter - thanks to a slow rumbling build-up, leading into a more intense vibration - yields a sense of empowerment we can't wait to unleash the next time we barbeque baddies in an RPG.

Xbox One Gamepad

Our final two demos, simulating a ticking heart and braking car, are the most impressive. The pumping brakes deliver a realistic halting sensation the likes of which we've never before experienced in a racer, while the heartbeat - delivered by alternating pulse-like vibrations in the two triggers - feels scary-real. In fact, we're guessing the latter effect will significantly up the fright factor in survival horror games; imagine navigating a dark corridor or derelict space station in complete silence, all while the protagonist's racing pulse thumps beneath your fingertips.

Early Verdict

Based on our time behind the Xbox One's controller - whose ergonomic design will feel comfortably familiar to 360 owners - the impulse triggers seem to hold the most promise and potential for putting players that much deeper in the experiences of rearranging zombies' ribcages with melee weapons, roasting trolls with fire balls, and racing across finish lines.

That said, a number of subtler features, such as magnetic sensor-equipped triggers and a battery case that no longer protrudes from the back of the controller, hint at the many ways the next-gen peripheral will provide more precision in your games and comfort in your hands.

Xbox One Gamepad

The Softies slimmed down the battery case

Our hands-on time barely scratches the surface of its promised 40-plus improvements, but our satisfied fingers and thumbs are already anticipating what other surprises the Xbox One's gamepad has got hidden beneath its buttons, sticks, and triggers.

Check out the video below for a sneak peek at some of the Xbox One games you'll soon be getting to grips with:

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.